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Child protection must be paramount

13 January, 2006

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Children and MLA for West Belfast Sue Ramsey has today said that the 'protection of children from harm must come above all other considerations.'

Ms Ramsey made her comments as the British Department of Education said it would tighten laws on the employment of sex offenders after it emerged that an unknown number of convicted offenders had Ministerial clearance to work with children.

Speaking today Ms Ramsey said:

"Last October both I and Bairbre de Brún MEP accompanied a delegation representing children's organisations including the NSPCC, the ISPCC and Barnardos to meet with the British Direct Rule Health Minister Shaun Woodward regarding child protection. The meeting was essentially about seeking ways to ensure that children are protected across the island.

"In light of the recent development that British Ministers had cleared an unknown number of sex offenders to work in English schools, it is imperative that pressure is brought to bear on the Departments with responsibility for children, North and South to ensure that such a scenario is not allowed to develop in Ireland.

"Despite assurances that no sex offenders are working in schools in the Six Counties, there have been warnings that there are no guarantees it will not happen in the future. Protecting children from harm must come above all other considerations. It is imperative that the British Government give a commitment that the same situation will not be allowed to happen as the one which has been allowed to develop in Britain.

"In light of the Ferns report on sexual abuse in the 26 Counties, stringent child protection measures are more important and necessary than ever. It is wholly unacceptable that those who volunteer to work with children are not required to be vetted and this situation must be addressed immediately.

"Sinn Féin has long called for the upward harmonization of child protection measures right throughout the island to prevent those intending to abuse children from exploiting loopholes and anomalies from gaining employment working with children. For example, at present there is nothing to prevent a convicted offender from the north from seeking similar employment in the south. All of these matters need addressed as a matter of urgency." ENDS

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